Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Badwater 2014: Not Just Another Hot Flash

It's hard to put so much stuff down in a single blogpost, because so much happens in the space of a few days. I want to write about the race this year because the event itself was different, it felt different, and turned out somewhat different. I have been struggling with how to put all this down, because I have a gazillion pictures of the beautiful desert and my road trip, too.

At this point I have no idea whether the original course will be back next year, and we all hope it will be, but it sounds like there might be a variation of this year's course in the works for a separate and different ultra in the future, regardless of the outcome with the original Badwater course.

This year it was a learning curve for everyone, the runners, crews, and staff. There were a lot of rookies, or first-time Badwater runners. Even the race logo was different.

The Trip Out
Since I had the time this year, I decided to drive out. I felt like I needed a good road trip to clear my mind. As it turned out I didn't do any intense thought process while driving, I just sort of zoned out looking at the scenery. Utah is a beautiful state, and there was so much to see. The drive was 16 or 17 hours each way and it really wasn't a bad drive, I broke it up by stopping in St. George Utah both ways, and that made it manageable. It was only 10 hours to St. George and then another 6 or 7 to Lone Pine. The best part about staying in all those hotels was the AC. I slept more comfortably and didn't wake up hot and pouring sweat at night.

On the way out I took my time, I stopped at a lot of roadside view areas in Utah. I planned to pick up Megan's boyfriend Ray at the Las Vegas airport Sunday morning and drive him to Lone Pine with me. Ray is a firefighter and EMT. Megan is the Badwater medical director, she's an ER physician in Albuquerque. So I got a late start out of St. George on Saturday and took my time in Las Vegas. I stopped at my favorite sushi place, Sushi Koma, and unfortunately the AC was not working when I first arrived! They had a repairman there and by the end of my lunch it was blowing somewhat cooler air. I asked them if their refrigeration for the food was working, and it was. It actually wasn't too bad sitting in there drinking ice water since it was 110 degrees outside.

I stayed on the west side of Vegas, I avoid the strip. I am not fond of downtown Vegas, or it's inhabitants, I call them the Lost Vegans. I found a quiet hotel in Summerlin and Sunday morning I went for a run before going to the airport to get Ray. Arranging to meet at the airport was a little challenging but it only took about 10 minutes and we found each other. Ray has never been to Death Valley before so it was fun to play tour guide. Except I missed the turnoff to Badwater when we went through Pahrump so he only got to see the original course from Furnace Creek north.
We made our obligatory stop in Pahrump for gas and I had a McDonald's salad, figuring that would be my staple for the next several days. Then we drove to Furnace Creek ad stopped at the store and Ray got t-shirts for his kids and I got a t-shirt for Dennis and some other junk, and we drove on.


We arrived in Lone Pine late in the afternoon and we were both hungry, but we missed the general pre-race meetings and they weren't done yet, so things were fairly quiet around the Dow Villa. We checked out the new restaurant next to the Dow and it was really good! They had salads, too. I felt relieved that I wasn't going to be limited to McDonald's and the Pizza Factory the whole time.

We walked around town to stretch our legs and I showed Ray where things were, Lone Pine only has a few blocks along the main street. Then we headed back to the Dow and Megan was back from the meeting. We checked into our rooms and then had the medical team meeting. There were a few new people this year, but we had George, Eric, Dave, Megan and me for the old crew, and Marco was back for a second year but this was my first time meeting him. Then Darryl and Aaron were two emergency physicians from Albuquerque that Megan invited, and Ray was new. And of course John Vonhof and Denise Jones on foot care as always. And Chris was with us for the first time on medical but he has been on the race staff for many years.
We had room 30 again, and we set up all our stuff after Megan discussed what we'd be seeing and how we go about doing things, especially for the new people on medical. We talked about how the course was laid out and the logistics of getting medical staff out on the course throughout the day and night. Instead of the point to point original course, Lone Pine was the hub, so it was a little easier and closer to get to the runners, but since no one had ever done this route before, we had little idea how the conditions at the different times of day might look in reality. Among the things we had to consider:

It wouldn't be as hot, the hottest part of the race would be in Owens Valley in the middle of the race for those who were out there in the daylight.

The big climb came first, up to Horseshoe Meadows at 10,000 feet, so there might be some altitude issues or bashed quads from the trip down.

There's always the potential for people to underestimate hydration needs when the temperatures are cooler, or at altitude.

There was the dirt section in the middle, the 15 mile section up and down the Cerro Gordo road, that would be mostly done at night, so we might see some foot issues from that. And there was no crew access for that section, so we had to have a vehicle for a potential evacuation, and medical staff up there until all the runners passed through.

There was Darwin, at the far end of the course, where we needed to have coverage just in case.

And then there was the finish line, the long stretch from when the first runner came in until the last runner finished.

And much more...

After our medical meeting, we all went to dinner, and I walked over to the Pizza Factory with George, and found my friend Bob Becker from Florida and his crew, and George and I split a pizza and we hung out and talked with Bob's crew. Bob had the number 69, which is his age. He looked very fit. He was being crewed by Bonnie Busch, whom I know from Iowa and running Cornbelt, she is an excellent runner with lots of Badwater experience both running the race herself and crewing. I met the rest of Bob's crew and they were all experienced runners and a really together bunch of people, so things looked good.

Most of us planned to be at the starting line to weigh the runners in and the first start wave was at 6, so I set my alarm for 5.

I went back to my room, which I was sharing with Marco, and we talked for a while, he's a nurse in Palm Springs and works in neuro and trauma. We both had a lot to say about nursing, and he asked me a lot of questions about my business. He's seeing the same things in California, except they have unions there, so they are a little more protected as far as staffing. But it doesn't stop things from being completely screwed up in health care.

The Start

I got a good 7 hours of sleep and made it over to the start at 5:30, and the sunrise over Mt. Whitney was the highlight of the morning. It was strange to be starting, looking at Mt. Whitney, but in a way, it felt right.
The three start waves were only one hour apart instead of two this time, which made it a lot easier and quicker than when the pre-race weigh in extends over nearly 5 hours. Also, the starting line was only 4 blocks from the hotel, so we could walk over, and even run out to get a cup of coffee between waves. On the original course it's a long drive to Badwater from Furnace Creek.

The starting line in all 3 waves had a different feel. Not as uptight, not as nervous or tense as the usual Badwater start. It almost had kind of a trail race feel to it, much more low-key. They still did the photo ops but it was easier to keep track of the runners since they weren't all off taking pictures at the Badwater sign.

Ben was out and hanging around, I made sure I talked with him as often as I could. Last year I think I was more upset about not seeing Ben than anything else about missing the event. He had some health problems last year and we were all worried about him. He seems to have bounced back and looked good. And of course, he's still sharp and remembers everything and everyone.

After we weighed the runners in, we all met over at the Alabama Hills Café which makes the best breakfasts ever. We knew it would be a while before anyone might need us, so we used the morning to organize the medical supplies a bit more and set up the room and chairs. Eric and Chris were going to do the Cerro Gordo section, Marco was going to be the finish line person, and the rest of us would stay put in Lone Pine and switch off roving the course.
We sat in the medical room for a while looking at John's books of icky feet pictures. You think Badwater feet are bad, you should se the ones from the jungle in the Amazon! John and George both gave me some foot advice as I was asking about keeping my feet from becoming macerated in case it's really wet in Cleveland in September. John gave me some samples of different kinds of foot goop to try. Denise came over with her foot kit and we talked, she brought Nike and Turbo with her for a short visit and I caught her up on the Buffaloes.

Original vs. Extra Crispy

As the runners headed up the 22 mile climb to Horseshoe Meadows, it was sunny and cool to start. The cooler temperatures and the 22 mile descent back to Lone Pine could make for some speedy times, so we sent the first roving crew out fairly early. I stayed in Lone Pine and talked with George and the others for a while. By early afternoon we hadn't seen any business so once Megan got back I went up toward Horseshoe Meadows to rove the course. Some people were flying down the hill, others were taking it easy. Everyone looked fine, there weren't any issues yet. I generally wave and cheer on all the runners. I saw Bob coming down so I waved at him and took a few pictures as he approached and went by. His crew looked happy.

I didn't drive all the way to Horseshoe Meadows because the last runners were already on their way down, so I waited for a while at a turnout, spoke with Scotty when he stopped in his truck, and looked out over the Owens Valley across toward Death Valley and Telescope Peak. This course was my kind of course, with the climb and descent on pavement at the beginning. Somehow I didn't feel all that excited about wanting to run it, though. It's like the difference between original and extra crispy.

When the last runner went by, I started heading down. I went back to the medical room and things were quiet, the runners had been coming through Lone Pine on their way out to Cerro Gordo. There were a few minor blisters and a question or two on hydration. People looked good, though you could tell that some were starting to feel it. Bob looked fantastic. There were a couple of runners whose crews were trying to get them to eat, they weren't interested in food, so that was a problem.
I spoke with the crew of one sluggish runner, who wasn't eating. He needed some carbs and I know he would have bounced back easily. But his crew, which consisted of some experienced ultrarunners, was feeding him avocados. Time for a nutrition lesson. I told the crew, "He needs to eat something with carbohydrates in it." The crew member said, "Yeah we're giving him avocadoes." I said, "He needs something with carbs, there are no carbs in avocados." The crew member said, "Are you kidding, there's a shit ton of carbs in avocadoes!" To which I replied, "No, it's only fiber and fat. He needs something with sugar in it. Do you have anything with sugar?"

You would think that experienced ultrarunners would know better, but then...

Megan and Ray had been out on the course. It's a narrow highway with little shoulder in some places, and cars are traveling at a good 70 mph. They aren't used to seeing runners on the roads. Around 7 pm Marco and I went out on the course to rove in my car, and drove out to the Cerro Gordo turnoff. I had to tell some of the runners and crews to turn their flashers on because it was getting hard to see. Most of the runners were on the Dolomite loop which is off the main highway for a stretch, but then rejoins the highway through Keeler to the Cerro Gordo turnoff. 
Marco and I pulled into the crew parking area at the bottom of Cerro Gordo. There were tons of cars jammed in there. Marshall found me and told me about one runner who was having problems, but it turned out they were okay. I saw Bob again and he looked great. Just cruising along with Bonnie.

When it started to get dark Marco and I headed back into town. He was waiting for the call from Chris to come up to the finish line, and I was headed back to hang out in the medical room. Marco went back to the room to get a nap and I hung out in room 30 while the others went to get food. John was getting ready to go out to Keeler to be there for foot care, and there had only been a few runners in with hydration issues. We did get some calls in the medical room, some odd ones. "Do you deliver ice?"

We did get one runner who hadn't urinated all day. You would think people would realize that's a problem a bit sooner than 16 hours into a race. He did eventually pee just a tiny bit for us, and it wasn't a bad color, but we gave him fluids and food and held him for a while.

Counting to Three

As we were finishing up with him, a crew member came to me and said he was worried about his runner, who was vomiting for 4 hours and hadn't stopped. They were at their room in town trying to get the runner to feel better. I told him to bring her in. When they drove up, I went to the door of the van to help her out of the car, and she looked wiped out, but as soon as she got out of the car, she started talking. Nonstop. Not in English. Complete with dramatic arm gestures and eye rolling. In my head, I knew she was still okay, because she wouldn't have all that energy if she were truly in trouble. Fortunately her crew member could translate.

Her vitals weren't bad at all, but she was down by about 8 pounds. I got her started on ORS (the oral rehydration salts that we mix in a liter of fluid) and her crew went to get her some saltines, and we actually got her drinking and eating. When she tried to have some soup, that came up, but fortunately it was only the soup and the ORS stayed down. I stayed up with her until we released her to go back on the course or drop out, depending on what she wanted to do. But she gave us a language lesson and she was quite lively and dramatic, so we got a lot of entertainment out of her visit. I have never heard anyone talk that fast, even my sister, and in a language you can't understand, you just sit back and listen in amazement. I did learn how to count to three in her language though. I kept counting for her as I gave her the cups of ORS and the saltines.

She was the last runner I saw at the end of a 19 hour day and as soon as she left I went back to my room to get a few hours of sleep, and George and Dave had the medical room for the night.

Marco was awake when I got to the room and he still hadn't heard from Chris. It was almost 1 am, I was exhausted and took a shower, then crashed. The air conditioner was awesome, it was cranked to the max, what a relief after being hot and sweaty all day.

At 5:30 am I heard a knock, I jumped up because my bed was closest to the door. It was Anna looking for Marco, he was supposed to be at the finish line. The first runners had come through Lone Pine already. I looked over and he was still there. He jumped up and got his stuff together, but I couldn't go back to sleep after he left. I got up and had my instant Starbucks packets of coffee, and dragged my butt over to the medical room. George hadn't slept all night, so I told him he could use our room to shower and take a long nap. There had been some business overnight, but so far, nothing major, and no one had needed any trips to the hospital or anything. There were more DNFs, though.

Day Two

As the day unfolded, there were people in for foot care, a few more hydration issues, and a few soft tissue injuries, like calf muscles or Achilles problems, but nothing really serious. The crews and runners thanked us for our care, they were so appreciative, and they remember you. As I was out on the course I made sure to check on the runners we had treated, and it's always so satisfying to see the runners get back out on the course and finish after they've been in medical for an issue. That's the best part of doing this, and that's why I love to come back.

Harvey Lewis won for the men with Grant Maughan close behind. Alyson Venti won for the women. Other than that I really didn't pay much attention to where people placed because I was too busy with what I was doing. I usually don't pay much attention to the times, places, or stats. There had been quite a few DNFs as the day went on. 

I went back to town, and George was taking a nap so I stayed out of the room and just hung out at medical. People would come up and ask me how the race was going. We were only two doors down from headquarters, but they are so busy in there, I never want to bug them with questions about the race. They post things when they can, but they are usually on the radio talking to other race staff out on the course.

I went to eat lunch, and the restaurant was quiet. As I was sitting there, I heard the couple next to me marveling at the runners, they couldn't believe people looked so good after running that many miles. The woman turned around since I had my Badwater shirt on, and she started asking me about the race and about ultras. I talked to her for a while, explaining that being able to run that many miles takes a commitment. You make running and training a priority in your life. It's not necessarily THE priority, but you make a choice to take the time to put the training in and take care of your body to allow it to adapt to these distances.

Ultraendurance athletes pursue their capabilities and push past their limits to surpass what for most people is untapped potential. Most people never explore themselves to learn what they can do. I was trying to explain this to them, and they looked like they had never even thought of that before. Imagine where we could be in this world if more people would do that!!!

The rest of the day and evening, the runners continued to proceed up to the Portals and finish. We didn't get too much business except for a few people who had already finished and wanted something checked out, like their feet, or their swollen hands. Antidiuretic hormone is secreted in response to stress and it just takes time for that puffiness to go away, Rest, food, and fluids are the best thing, and ice on any particularly sore places. But it's just time, and allowing your body to recover.

I'm not sure if there were any other medical issues because during the times we're there in the room, we see people, but if we're away or out on the course we miss the things that other medical people see. But as far as I know, there were none.

 I spend a lot of time just talking to runners and their crews, educating them about I & O. That is intake and output. It's mostly about fueling, hydration and electrolytes, and staying cool. Most crews are pretty good about listening. Occasionally there are the completely out there, misguided, clueless people, but fortunately there aren't too many of those at Badwater.

Tuesday evening George and I started doing the inventory of supplies for next year and everyone on medical who was there pitched in and we got it done quickly. I stayed up late cleaning the equipment, and I even put the chairs in the shower to wash the grunge off of them. Things start to get really stinky and nasty after two days of sweaty runners using them. We change the sheets on the bed in between each runner, but those dirty sheets start to give the medical room a certain odor by Wednesday. Ugh.

Wrapping It Up

Tuesday night I got about 6 hours of sleep then woke up Wednesday morning feeling not too bad. Megan wrapped things up with medical, then I went out to breakfast with Bob and his crew. Bob finished in 39 hours and change, an awesome performance! He was very happy.

After breakfast I went over to the elementary school to see if they needed help setting up for the pizza party. When I got there, Don Meyer was the only one there. So I grabbed a broom and paper towels and started sweeping the floor and cleaning the tables and benches. There was no air conditioning so we had a big fan going and we had to keep people out so the room wouldn't get hot. As the runners started to arrive, I decided to become the bouncer and stop people at the door so they'd wait in line outside until the food arrived. 

I only stuck around for the very beginning of the event, I wanted to get on the road and make it to St. George so my drive on Thursday wouldn't be too long. I said goodbye to as many people as I could, and then left by noon.

Driving home I just went forward, didn't stop much except to stretch my legs. Driving back through Panamint and all the curves in the road from Father Crowley Point on down and over the pass to Stovepipe, I realize just how familiar I am with all the details of this road, and all the colors. It always blows my mind just how colorful this road is, and how much I have fallen in love with this place. Every rock, every big Joshua tree, every curve along the way carries a memory for me. I find myself smiling as I remember bits of conversations I've had with my crew, or things that happened in different places along the way.
I did one last trip to Sushi Koma when I went through Vegas, to fuel myself for the trip. I stayed in St. George again. Great AC in the hotel. But did you know that at 7:30 on a Thursday morning there is NOTHING happening in St. George. Even the breakfast places aren't open until 8. No one is out on the streets. Where was everyone? At the Temple? I had to drive to Cedar City before I could find something to eat for breakfast.
I drove all the way home Thursday, getting in before dark. The Buffaloes howled so all the neighbors would know I was home. I think Dennis was happy to see me too, once the Buffaloes let him.
I haven't had much time to process my thoughts about this year's race or what I learned, so as those things occur to me, they'll be in other posts. But that is about as short as I can make a blogpost on what is always one of the most enjoyable three day stretches of my summer.


Ultra Monk said...

Thanks for the report and pictures. Any reason for more DNFs?

Alene Gone Bad said...

More new runners, lack of experience with this course, and varied conditions, possibly not expecting the heat to be a factor could have led to poor assumptions about hydration needs. And then who knows what else?

giraffy said...

I have no interest in running Badwater, but I always love your recaps :D. My friend Andrea ran for the first time, and can't stop talking about how great it was.

Rachel Gantenbein said...

Another great post! Was great to finally catch up on some of your blogs. Been a busy summer. What a great experience it must have been to be back there again for you. I'm sure working the medical tent was exhausting for 2 full days, but like you said also rewarding too. Think you'll go back next year?